Chapter Fifteen

 

When Abraham Bronson came to Vermont in 1802, he found the Episcopal Church almost extinct. Had it not been for the persistent loyalty and religious efforts of the illustrious Jehiel Hawley, who laid the foundations of the church in the hearts of the people by assembling them for worship in his home Sunday after Sunday for upwards of twenty years, the Rev. Abraham Bronson might have passed from Arlington to some other field to begin his missionary labors.


Some day, it is our hope that a monument may be erected in the Arlington Churchyard to bear a lasting honor to the memory of these churchmen and pioneers who blazed the trail for the establishment and growth of the Episcopal Church in Arlington. It was largely due to the foresight and activity of the Rev. Abraham Bronson, it should also be remembered, that in 1811 the Eastern Diocese was formed, and that Bishop Griswold was called to Episcopal oversight of the infant church in Vermont. This may seem an unimportant phase of that early period to those who have been nurtured in non-Episcopal churches, but the connecting link between our mother, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in America is its government by Bishops, and the permanency of its existence here in America depends upon this form of government in every diocese. For this reason, in preparing this history of the parish, it has seemed fitting to knit together the growth and activities of the parish with the Episcopate as the center.


The Bishops have been the instruments of its spiritual growth, for to them alone is committed the authority to impart the laying-on-of hands in confirmation. To them the parish has looked for counsel and inspiration, and they have been "the court of appeal" to whom have been committed questions of discipline and parochial differences.


St. Jamesí Parish has lived in the midst of the turbulent as well as the peaceful on-goings of time in the community and the nation. It has witnessed in the lives of its devoted parishioners many times of depression, and periods of hardship; its people in the early days had few of the comforts and conveniences of modern life.


The stagecoach and horse and buggy period seems like an echo of the distant past to us who have inherited the comforts of travel in automobiles, buses, railroads, and airplanes.


Our forefathers lived without the constant touch with the affairs of the world through the telephone and the radio.


Yet their story is a revelation of indomitable courage and thrift, as it comes to us through the meager records that have been handed down to us. In the common round of their community and church life, they had their times of friction; they were beset with the same weaknesses and petty jealousies that are common in all communities without respect of time. But their simplicity of life had its great advantages; they looked to the church as their teacher, it was the center of the interest of the neighborhood.


Through the years the parish has been the background for the development of social and religious welfare. Here have been fostered the refinements of life.


The church building as it stands now with its commanding and inspiring presence is the embodiment, the fruit of the struggles and sacrifices of the past. It testifies to the worth of the systematic teaching of the faith of our fathers, given through the diligent ministry of pastors and teachers, and through the quiet influence and example of many fathers and mothers of sturdy character and unswerving integrity.
The diocese and the parish have within a few years entered upon new and efficient leadership.

 


At a special convention of the diocese held at St. Paulís Church, Burlington, on July thirtieth, 1935, to elect a successor to the late Bishop Samuel Babcock Booth, DD., the choice of the diocese resulted in the election of the Rev. J. W. Sutton, DD. vicar of Trinity Chapel, New York.


Unfortunately, as it then seemed, after a delay of several months, the Rev. Dr. Sutton declined the election.


In the meantime the diocese without a leader was becoming discouraged or disheartened, and the importance of the speedy election of a Bishop keenly recognized.


Another special convention of the Diocese was held at Trinity Church, Rutland on November twelfth, 1935, and, on assembling, the Rev. Vedder Van Dyck became the choice of the convention. He was consecrated at St. Paul's Church, Burlington on St. Matthiasí Day, February twenty-fourth - 1936.


The Rt. Rev. Vedder Van Dyck, DD., is the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Vermont. He, like the late Coadjutor Bishop Bliss, was Rector of St. Paul's Church, Burlington, where he had successfully ministered for five years.

 

While Rector, he showed unusual capacities as a preacher and an administrator, having served on the Executive Council and on the Diocesan Committee of Finance.

 

In his wider field as Bishop, he has become familiar with the special problems of the diocese and has shown peculiar versatility in helping to solve them.


The diocese has been facing the problem, since the death of Bishop Booth, of how to finance the up-keep of the two buildings, the Vermont Episcopal Institute and Bishop Hopkins Hall.


Sad as it seemed to allow the Vermont Episcopal Institute to deteriorate through lack of repairs, yet since funds are at present insufficient to adequately maintain both buildings, the Bishop decided that for the pressing needs of the School for Girls, Bishop Hopkins Hall should be maintained, and that the resources of the diocese should be used so far as possible in the repairs and improvement of the property so that the building may become a permanent educational institution.


Through his planning and financial management, not sparing his own physical labor in the use of the paint brush and carpenterís tools, the Bishop has succeeded in the renovation and repairs of Bishop Hopkins Hall so that it now shows the fruit of his initiative in improved heating and plumbing equipment, and in the decoration of the interior of the building.


Bishop Van Dyck has given himself unsparingly to the many problems, financial, educational and spiritual, of the diocese, spending much time in counsel with Rectors and parishes when needed; he has ministered often in the Chapel of the School for Girls, where he also teaches, and in vacant parishes and missions in addition to his regular parish visitations, seeking in his preaching and in spiritual counsels to awaken the congregations of the diocese to the vital need of more loyalty to the standards of the Church, and to attendance at its worship, also laboring to strengthen the morale of the people by appealing to them to realize the necessity of turning their hearts and minds and wills toward God and religion in this time of crisis.


The Rev. Philip T. Fifer entered upon the rectorship of St. Jamesí Church on the first Sunday in May 1939.


Mr. Fifer is a native of Philadelphia, and was prepared for the priesthood at the Philadelphia Divinity School.

 

He was ordained Deacon June first, 1931, from St. Peterís Parish, Glenside, near Philadelphia, and to the Priesthood March twelfth, 1932.
His ministry began as Vicar of an old colonial Parish, St. Jamesí, Perkiomen, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on June first, 1931, where he remained until November thirtieth, 1935, when he became Vicar of the Church of the Advent, Baltimore, Maryland. After a ministry of over three years there he was called to become Rector of St. Jamesí, Arlington.

 

The item of chief interest in Mr. Fiferís first two years as Rector of St. Jamesí is the attempt to place religious education on a really adequate level of efficiency.

 

It seemed to him, as to many others in various places and churches, that the nineteenth century Sunday School was not and could not live up to the hopes entertained for it in the days of its founding.

 

The Church can never afford to forget the affectionate and generous devotion of countless lay-women and lay-men who have staffed the parochial Sunday Schools for the past hundred years, and yet, for all that, in his view, the children of the Church were not being adequately grounded in the Christian Faith and Christian living.


To Mr. Fifer, as well as to other like-minded educators elsewhere, there seemed to be two ways in which to deal with the problem.
In the first place, aside from any question of when or where the children were to be instructed, the new plan assumed that the priest himself would do the teaching.


Secondly, where possible, the instruction would be given in connection with secular education, preferably in the same building, and on school time.


As the plan worked out in Arlington the children of grammar school age were brought to the Rectorís Study on Saturday mornings, coming at one of three different hours according to their ages.


This arrangement has been in effect for two full years now, and in the Rectorís judgment has thoroughly fulfilled its purpose.
In regard to the other element of the revised scheme of education, no more than a beginning has been made, but there is hope for development. Upon the suggestion of the local Roman Catholic priest, and at the request of the parents, the school authorities devised a plan for religious classes to be taught in the Senior and Junior High Schools by the several clergymen.


This was most happily put into effect in the latter part of the 1939-1940 school years. However, its necessity was not fully enough grasped by the powers that be in the school system.


On this account, in the reorganization attendant upon the burning down of the schoolhouse in November 1940, religion was temporarily dropped out of the curriculum.
 

The principal has declared his intention of reestablishing religious instruction when the school is again housed in adequate quarters, and it is Mr. Fiferís hope that the school and community will then be able to see that religion is not a peripheral subject, but one of the fundamental four Rís.

 

It should be borne in mind, Mr. Fifer says, that this attempt to repair the disastrous divorce between religion and secular learning is not peculiar to Arlington, but is commending itself to countless communities in this country and abroad.

 

Nearly thirty towns in Vermont alone have embarked upon similar projects.

 

Mr. Fifer is a musician and he says that before coming to Arlington he had given much thought to the matter of Church music. To his great and oft-expressed delight he found at hand, in the person of Mrs. Harry Grout, the choir director, both the desire and the ability to bring the parish music into line with the standards that are approved by many students of Church music.

 

The last century has seen a renewed emphasis both upon worship and the several appurtenances thereof, including music. However, Mr. Fifer says, as might have been expected, desire for improvement outran the facilities at hand, and it was characteristic of most church music to suffer from being overly ambitious.
 

Mr. Fifer feels that the problem has been met in a splendid way in Vermont on a diocesan basis, by the provision of annual training conferences and choir festivals.
 

Arlington began to cooperate in these ventures in the time of Mr. Fiferís predecessor, and has now come to such a level of attainment that the Bishop himself has called attention to it.
 

In March of 1941 the Chancel was strikingly enriched by the addition of a Tabernacle and Sanctuary Lamp.
 

They were given by the Leake and Jackson families in memory of their parents, Richard Bryan Leake and Annie Nichols Leake, and in memory of Mrs. Roland Jackson, daughter of Richard and Annie Leake and of her son Richard.
 

These gifts had been accepted by the Vestry with the consent and at the request of the Bishop.
 

In the unavoidable absence of the Bishop the Rector blessed the gifts and put them into service.
 

The Rev. Mr. Fifer is blessed with a wife whose devotion to her family, her Church and the people of the parish have earned for her the esteem of the people, and four children, one boy and three girls, whose wholesome child life adds charm to the Rectory household.
 

It remains for the author to assure his readers that the labor spent in gathering the materials for the history of this parish has been more than doubly repaid in the rich experience that has come to him in discovering with what courage, perseverance and faith the forefathers of St. Jamesí, both men and women, from year to year, shouldered their burdens, seeking loyally to bear their witness to the faith they loved and to carry on their worship and service.
 

As one reflects on the story of the past of our parish one is reminded of the words of the Psalmist: "The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground; yea, I have a goodly heritage."
 

No more difficult days in church or state are on record than that period of reconstruction after the war of the Revolution. We cannot tell against what suspicion and hostility our spiritual fathers, many of them bred of Loyalist stock, struggled on to preserve the Anglican faith, and to keep the sparks of life in the then infant parish from going out.
 

"May they rest in peace; and may light perpetual shine upon them.
 

We, too, in this day, have a heritage not simply to boast of, but to preserve.
 

We are living in days of glorious opportunity, opportunity to show our faith in God, even when foes threaten and alarm. May we, with our eyes on the Cross, never falter!

 

"Godís truth abidcth still, His Kingdom is forever."

 

Note - The last diocesan Journal (1940) gives the following numerical and financial status of the parish:
 

People Ė Families - 76; Baptized members - 239; Communicants - 113; Baptisms (children) - 10; Confirmations - 11; Marriages - 2; Burials Ė 11; Church school, officers and teachers - 2; Scholars - 46.
 

Receipts: For parish support - $2,796.85; For special parochial purposes - $467.29; For extra - parochial purposes - $450.13; Capital account - $236.53; Total receipts - $4,458.10.
 

Disbursements: For current expenses - $2,347.88; For special parochial purposes - $829.19; For extra - parochial purposes - $450.13;

 

Capital Account - $171.84; Total disbursements - $4,008.76.
 

Balance: January first 1940 - $449.32.
 

Property values: Church - $25,000; Rectory - $6,000; Land - $2.000: Furniture - $3,000; Endowments - $18,807; Total - $54,807;

 

Insurance - $28,000
 

Indebtedness - None.

 

 

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